COLUMBUS - When it comes to the need for farmers to obtain a commercial driver's license to haul farm products or inputs, no news is good news, according to the Agricultural & Resource Law Program at Ohio State University.
"There haven't been any changes," said Peggy Kirk Hall, director of the Ag Law Program. "There were rumors there would be some additional federal changes to the CDL provisions, but the U.S. Department of Transportation announced there would be no changes, and provided some additional advice to clarify what was happening."
The Ag Law Program is a research, outreach and education center supported by Ohio State University Extension.
Hall said the no-change message is important because there was significant confusion in the agricultural community over potential changes to regulations governing the CDL.
"With CDL, we basically need to look at Ohio law, because federal law delegates that authority to the states," she said. "Each state is permitted to exempt agriculture, and Ohio has chosen to do so. In Ohio law, it is called the Farm Truck Exemption."
That provision exempts the CDL requirement for a farmer controlling or operating a farm truck, with two specific restrictions. First, the truck must be hauling farm products either from the farm or to the farm.
In other words, Hall said, the farmer operating the truck needs to be taking a farm's output to market, or hauling inputs and equipment back to the farm. Also, the exemption specifies a distance limitation of 150 miles, beyond which a CDL is necessary.
"The other issue to consider is if you cross state lines," Hall said. "If that is the case, you will need a CDL because each state has its own specific restrictions, and because at that point you will be engaging in interstate commerce."
Hall said the issue of crossing state lines while otherwise complying with Ohio's farm truck exemption is a potential area for involvement by farmers in the policy process.
"States are allowed to grant each other reciprocity, so states like Indiana or Kentucky could honor Ohio's CDL exemption, but that hasn't happened at this point," she said. "This may be an area for the agricultural community to be involved in the policy discussion."
Hall said given the statement from the USDOT, she does not expect any further changes to either federal or state regulations governing farmers and the CDL.
There is, however, one area of Ohio law in which she saw an opportunity for additional clarity.
"There is something of a gray area," she said. "The language in the exemption applies to 'a farmer,' but we don't have a definition of who is a farmer. Does the language cover children, spouses or employees? And what if we farm as an incorporated entity, say an LLC, then who is the 'farmer' under that definition? It's not necessarily a problem, but it is an area where we could use some additional clarity in the law."